Crosby, the 19-year-old star centre of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Ovechkin, the 21-year-old Russian scoring terror of the Washington Capitals, became the face of the new post-lockout NHL with dazzling rookie seasons in 2005-06.
They will clash next Monday, Dec. 11 in the first of four meetings this season between the Eastern Conference teams. Both admitted they will have no trouble getting up for the face-to-face confrontation.
“It’s always a little more motivating from my side,” Crosby said Monday as they took part together in a conference call with the media.
“It’s built up so much, you want to respond and have a good game, At the end of the night, the win is the most important thing but there’s no doubt there is more attention and more emotion when we play each other.”
“Sidney’s right,” added Ovechkin. “Sidney and me want to score some goals and get some points, but (mostly) we want to win the game.”
In four meetings between the clubs last season, Ovechkin had three goals and three assists and was plus-2, while Crosby had three goals and six assists and was plus-3.
Ovechkin had a slightly better year overall and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. The Russian finished third in league scoring with 52 goals and 54 assists, while Crosby was sixth with 39 goals and 63 assists. Both played 81 games.
Ovechkin had his first brush with controversy this past week after he banged Buffalo Sabres’ top centre Daniel Briere from behind with a late hit during a 7-4 Capitals win on Saturday night.
The five-foot-10, 175-pound Briere went face-first into the boards, but perhaps luckily wasn’t hurt. The six-foot-two 220-pound Ovechkin was ejected, but is not expected to be suspended.
“The contact was not an accident, I wanted to hit him, but if you see the replay, I don’t hit him hard,” said Ovechkin. “I didn’t want to injure him or give him a dirty hit. I’m not (that) kind of player.
“I did it because it was a game. I wanted to hit him and he turned and I didn’t have time to do something. I know it was not a good hit, but I said I didn’t want to do it.”
Capitals coach Glen Hanlon would no doubt prefer to see his star winger stick to scoring goals. Ovechkin leads his team with 16 goals and 11 assists, while Crosby leads the Penguins with 10 goals and 22 assists.
“I try to play more defensively,” said Ovechkin, adding that Hanlon told him “I don’t care about how (you) play offensively, I care about how (you) play defensively.
“So I know I play better defensively now.”
Crosby’s big adjustment from his rookie year was having another young Russian star, Evgeni Malkin, joining the Penguins this season.
The two have already begun to spread fear around the league with their scoring feats and are only likely to score more when they get to know each other better.
“It’s great to be able to play with someone who is that creative and has that much fun on the ice,” said Crosby. “I’m improving just playing with him.
“He’s still learning English, so it’s hard to communicate, but we’re doing our best and he’s coming along as the season progresses.”
Malkin arrived in Pittsburgh amid some controversy as he bolted his outraged Russian league squad during training camp to pursue his NHL dream.
“He had to go through so much just to get here, I think hockey is the relaxing part for him,” said Crosby.
With Crosby and Malkin, plus young talent like centre Jordan Staal and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins have an NHL powerhouse in the making.
But Ovechkin says Washington may be one of their chief foils in coming years.
“It’s a lucky team that has Crosby and Malkin,” he said. “In future, they’ll probably be the best team in the league.
“But we have a couple of guys, too.”